The Gillard Government is confident its tobacco plain packaging laws will survive the final legal test after the High Court yesterday ruled cigarettes will have to be sold in logo-free, drab dark brown boxes from December.
In a decision health groups hailed as the biggest anti-smoking win in decades, the High Court rejected Big Tobacco's argument the world-first plain packaging laws were unconstitutional because the Government was not compensating them for taking away their trademarks.
The removal of logos is expected to result in lower prices, as cheap brands put pressure on sales of more popular brands, an anti-tobacco leader and an industry study has forecast.
The industry's last chance to overturn plain packaging lies within international trade laws but these cases could take up to three years to be resolved.
The decision means all tobacco products sold in Australia from December 1 will need to be packaged in plain boxes that feature bigger graphic warnings and brand names printed in a small, standard font.
Inspectors will visit shops to ensure they are not selling branded packaging. The public can also dob in rogue retailers via a telephone hotline or online. Companies could be fined up to $1.1 million for breaches.
Australian Council on Smoking and Health president Mike Daube, who chaired the Federal Government committee which called for plain packaging, said the decision had global ramifications.
"Tobacco companies have opposed plain packaging more ferociously than any other measure because they know it will have a major impact on smoking here, and other countries will follow," he said.
Cancer Council Australia chief executive Ian Olver said it was a landmark ruling that put public health before vested commercial interests.
"The tobacco companies threw everything at plain packaging, which just goes to show how powerful they think glossy tobacco packaging is as a marketing tool," he said.
Some of Australia's leading healthcare executives said the legislation did not go far enough and called for a total ban on cigarettes.
"What they're agreeing to is to have a product that's licensed available to people to kill themselves," Edmund Bateman, the managing director of Primary Health Care, said.
Ukraine, Honduras and Dominican Republic have told the World Trade Organisation plain packaging restricts trade. But Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the High Court's ruling strengthened the Government's hand.
"It has never been asserted successfully around the world in any trade dispute that governments are not allowed to take public health measures to protect their community," she said.